As society, industry, and everyday life in Japan continue to change, design should drive progress by revealing what the future may hold and motivating us to work toward it. We therefore evaluated entries this year mindful of design’s roles today and the ways it can shape society tomorrow.
The groundwork for the discipline of design as a means to improve life for the average person was laid nearly a century ago. Since then, design has gained precision, serving increasingly specific purposes and becoming more refined. But social issues and needs have also grown more complex, and as a force synonymous with solutions and innova-tion, design is called on to respond to these issues in compelling ways. Accordingly, we have seen more examples of substantial design work that delves into issues by exam-ining what and how we think about things. Environmental, educational, and commu-nity issues seem to call out for expert design as never before, which shows our greater expectations of design in these changing times.
A primary role of design that should never change is how, by introducing an elegant solution, design elevates everyday experience or aptly conveys new technologies that encourage sound industrial growth. But to encourage expert design in social issues and needs, we must recognize the power of turning a designer’s eye to all kinds of events and situations around us.
This involves nurturing design work that holds new possibilities and distinct potential, though it may still be at a formative stage. It also compels us to view pervasive social issues as opportunities for good design, though this perspective may be new. Toward this end, we must apply the thinking, perspectives, and approaches used in design more broadly in society, linking them with subject-specific expertise or activities in order to promote positive changes.
It is this thinking that informs the 12 Focused Issues introduced this year, through which the program represents a platform for articulating the shape that society and everyday life should take in the future. Each of us individually and society at large must respond to these Focused Issues, which present various problems to solve and areas where good design will no doubt be essential. They provide a context to discern specific spheres of design today and explore the fuller potential of design tomorrow. By con-veying our findings as messages, we hope to give momentum to this kind of design work.
Insightful and inspiring essays on Focused Issues were written by 12 leaders in related fields, who assess the current and future relevance of a variety of winning entries. Here, we find ways that good design – whether in the form of hardware, software, or something else – responds to the Focused Issues, and some considerations to keep in mind.
The Focused Issues afford an opportunity to share with the public the potential of good design, and a chance to advance the cause of design itself in society.
This year, the Good Design Award program welcomed Chairman Kazufumi Nagai and Vice Chairman Fumie Shibata as we examined the potential of good design in society more closely. Knowing that expert design is now found in a broader range of fields, and that people interpret design more broadly, we introduced Focused Issues to guide this year’s screenings and explain the significance of award-winning design to the public.
Design inevitably reveals itself to us when, with some sense of purpose, we consider how to change a situation. It is no exaggeration to claim that the business of design carries society forward. Behind the design of each of the many diverse entries in the award program lies an intent to affect society in some way, and interpreting this stance correctly is paramount. With this in mind, despite the tendency to evaluate design within distinct categories such as consumer products, architecture, software, services, and so on, we view it as important to uncover and expand upon the substantial underlying thinking and future potential shared by design entries of all kinds.
Toward this end, Focused Issues that bring an array of entries into clearer focus not only provide useful perspectives in design evaluation, they also link design efforts to a variety of social conditions and concerns. Moreover, essays by the 12 authorities on each Focused Issue show how design is evolving to support future needs.
Through the Focused Issues, we will be taking the opportunity of the program’s 60th anniversary next year to elaborate on the insight of good design and expand the scope of our work.
Community development – through revitalization of rural areas or revival of waning communities – generally comes to mind in Japan when we consider the topic of commu-nities and localities. However, addressing issues faced by communities and localities is not a matter of bringing back the vibrant good old days or reestablishing stronger ties. Alt-hough administrative and tax systems have enabled greater individual independence in society, weaker interpersonal ties have revealed the difficulty of this. Under the circum-stances, we ponder the nature of ideal ties with others – not too close, not too distant – and an ideal rural sparseness. Although this kind of discussion suggests that ideas for community building described here will deal with intangibles, both “soft” and “hard” ap-proaches in design must be considered in order to breathe new life into the spheres of community activity.
This premise forms the basis for summarizing this year’s entries from the two perspectives of communities and localities. The concept of a community seems fairly straightforward, but locality probably requires a little clarification. In this context, localities are simply lo-cal areas, such as areas of production.
To begin with a look at community-minded design: many excellent entries consist of meet-ing places, which no doubt responds to the perception that local ties are fraying. One such entry called OTera Cafe shows the potential of a temple – used after hours as a café – in bringing together community members of all faiths. In the Wakatake no mori serviced retirement community, one senses the shape that local hubs of social activity may take in Japan’s impending era of extended longevity. Elsewhere, at the repurposed and renovated site of a former fish market, neighbors and tourists alike mingle in the Totoza community center, where they can appreciate the area’s fishing heritage.
Renovation seems like a good opportunity to bring communities together. In the trend away from tightly knit communities, it may be essential not to sever the bond between res-idents’ memories and existing buildings, but instead to bring people together through the-se resources. Many neighbors collaborated to renovate a traditional thatched house in ru-ral Akita, but the fact that it hosts out-of-town visitors shows that villages are finding it difficult to maintain their social venues without external support. This raises the intri-guing prospect of expanding communities beyond their traditional boundaries.
From the viewpoint of localities, many outstanding entries promote local production for local consumption. These respond to current regional issues such as local production and consumption of food and energy, as well as local economic renewal. Pursuit of this sustain-ability in energy is seen at a smart community in Miyama, and in agriculture, at an urban farm in Kyoto, both of which remind many people about its importance.
Encouraging people to “keep it local” habitually from an early age is a goal of two entries targeting students, with one supporting locally sourced Japanese cuisine in school lunches and another giving students an opportunity to assemble their own desk and chair from local materials, which they keep and take home after graduating. These children may well grow up with somewhat different values than those of their parents or grandparents.
Ensuring the sustainability of communities themselves remains a key issue. Even if a new community is formed with an ideal combination of tangible and intangible infrastructure, its core members will inevitably grow older. There is also a risk of stress from ties that bind too tightly, if these core members form inflexible ties of obligation. So too is there a distinct possibility that community coherence will be lost the moment that, for whatever reason, core members leave. Communities must therefore adjust to changing de-mographics, and they must change with the times. These well-designed social and academic programs, held at many venues where people meet, respond to community and locality issues and show the importance of adapting to internal and external changes to ensuring sustainability.
The map of Tokyo and surrounding areas is being significantly redrawn in preparation for 2020, building on current mobility and infrastructure not limited to stations, roads, and public architecture. How will life change for urban and rural dwellers here, as the landscape changes? Winners in this year’s award program provide an opportunity to consider future mobility and infrastructure.
Tokyo mobility design: elevators and hydrogen vehicles
With the arrival of a maglev bullet train line by 2050 that will put 60 million people within an hour’s ride from each other, major metropolises will seem like Tokyo suburbs. A way to carry people between the surface and stations deep underground must be designed, but when one imagines the faster flow of future traffic and information in Tokyo, current subway elevators seem like an ancient solution. In preparing for the Olympics, cities also take the opportunity to update their image, as in London’s new “Legible London” signage for 2012 and major urban renewal for both the London and Rio Olympics (which reminds us of Tokyo’s in 1964). As a period of considerable population decline in Japan coincides with a global increase of 3 billion people by 2050, we ask ourselves what can be done for 2020 today through good design? From this perspective, displays of a gently rounded elevator and a hydrogen vehicle at the exhibition catch one’s attention. In the elevator, everything is smooth and rounded, perhaps fitting for Tokyo’s futuristic vertical traffic flow. In the car, which hints at next-generation energy, features for fuel cell cooling double as a design element. Here, good design shows the world how new energy and transportation for 2020 are taking shape in Japan.
Putting good mobility design on the map: roadside stations and agricultural logistics
Tokyo continues to expand, but how should areas with fewer people adapt? Outside of cities, design is beginning to connect the dots between people and local resources in new ways. We can admire Uber and Amazon as novel approaches to moving people or goods between places, but Amazon can only offer such well-developed services in Japan because it relies on an outstanding mobility infrastructure already established by local courier services. Roadside stations are another distinctive Japanese institution, but through sales of local specialties, they make some connections that are expected and others that are quite innovative.
Unlike rather boring bus depots in some other countries that have all seemed the same for many years, these stations in Japan convey the local flavor to those who stop for a while. The enterprising Solene Shunan station neatly ties together local life by collecting produce from the elderly farmers and delivering it to local households that have ordered it. The idea of providing logistics to link farmland where this riverside station is located to the homes of customers sets a good example of sustainable mobility design in depopulated areas. (Road stations themselves are a fine example of good design in Japan.) A vision of community design that takes full advantage of the infrastructure of roadside stations is very interesting.
Open architecture, available to communities: turning vacant factories into roadside stations
Another interesting development is roadside station design that transforms the industrial space of a vacant factory into the open architecture of a roadside station. Factories are synonymous with highly focused industrial architecture, built for specific purposes – hardly shared infrastructure. In effect isolated from their towns, many of these utilitarian buildings that sprang up across Japan are now vacant, which has hollowed-out city centers.
People have sensed the potential of somehow opening these buildings to communities and making them valuable once again as infrastructure attuned to local needs. This renovation to transform small-town factories should be viewed as a new form of infrastructure design that gives neighborhoods access to these formerly closed spaces.
Although the complex topics of mobility and infrastructure seem impenetrable, the issues came into vibrant focus and seemed to shed their skin and emerge as I walked around the entry evaluation site. An exciting Mazda roadster stirs our primal desires for mobility, and Subaru’s automatic braking system represents remarkable safety design. Overall, this mobility and infrastructure design suggest that people’s lives in cities and rural areas will be changing significantly over time.
In this, we look to designers to endow their work with some special significance, but in the mobility and infrastructure design on display for this year’s program, we can already also see signs of future landscapes in Tokyo and across Japan.
Now that the impact of exacerbated climate change, reduced biodiversity, and depleted natural resources from rampant materialism is increasingly felt, how should we respond to real threats to our way of life through design? Rather than merely satisfying us here and now, this kind of design must contribute to establishing a society in balance with nature over the long term. It is a matter of defining what design is good for the future, which is especially relevant in the context of the “Global Environment / Energy” Focused Issue.
Climate change can be faced with two strategies – one of mitigation and another of adaptation. Through the former, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote ways to absorb emissions. Through the latter, we make the world more resilient to the damage of existing climate-related disasters. Understanding resiliency is easier if, instead of imagining hoisting up some kind of rigid shield against the elements, we envision design in society that helps us smoothly get back on our feet after disasters. Imagine a system of autonomous distributed infrastructure that keeps working even if some units are lost. Or gradually preparing a network that makes information widely available to enable individual action, educates people about what to do in emergencies, strengthens communities, and links districts.
As for curbing climate change, Japan has long pioneered this field, as by working to eliminate factory emissions and developing energy-efficient products. Many outstanding entries supporting this strategy were recognized with awards this year. In contrast, however, fewer examples of design can be cited that help us adapt to the impact of climate change. After much delay, the government is finally enacting some adaptation initiatives in 2015, which we hope will spur more projects and assessment in this field.
Signs of this can be seen in this year’s entries. Timed to coincide with greater liberalization of public utilities in 2016, a municipally funded company was established to buy and sell renewable energy supporting local production and consumption in a smart community in Miyama. This is the first such community building in Japan. Municipalities with their own energy infrastructure will transform consumption, turning it from an expense into a source of revenue. Profit can be invested in improving local life, as decided with input from residents. The project has already changed how officials and residents think about energy. Similarly, Toyota’s development for Mirai fuel cell vehicles extends beyond technological innovation to include supporting systems (such as infrastructure promoting a hydrogen-based society) and other advantages for society. Although this does not solve the root problem of relying on fossil fuels to produce hydrogen, Toshiba addresses this issue in a hydrogen-based autonomous energy supply system that shows how to break free from fossil fuels by using renewable energy to produce hydrogen. A solar battery from Panasonic illustrates how to shift our energy habits from consumption alone to a cycle that includes generating, storing, and using energy – which, if such generation and storage devices become common, also provides a little reassurance that people will be better prepared in power outages. What comes into view when we combine these ideas is a more resilient society from the standpoint of energy.
Although entries that may promote resiliency in community-building are still limited, they are evident in the more coherent community planned for Ishinomaki evacuees in Kawanokami, as well as the Bio Net Initiative that establishes biodiversity recovery as a guideline in condominium development.
A strong ally in adapting to climate change is education. Children who grow up with strong bonds to their community and to nature can one day be a positive force in regional development. This observation makes certain entries more noteworthy, such as a program in Nara that enables students to assemble their own desk and chair from local materials, and a student-inspired green seawall to protect coastal areas in Fukushima.
Design that helps us face environmental crises will require an accurate awareness of current realities (accounting for some uncertainty), sophisticated insight and good judgment in combining interdisciplinary expertise in innovative ways, and a positive, creative attitude. This expertise may still be limited to only a few entries reviewed this year, but we sense that people are steadily developing it.
Dozens of award winners this year pertain to the Focused Issue of preventing, mitigating, or recovering from disasters. Some directly support disaster recovery, such as public hous-ing built in affected areas like Kamaishi or Iriya-Minamisanriku, or the new Senseki Tohoku railway line. Others respond to Fukushima by offering hydrogen- or solar-powered energy solutions or superior solar panel mounts. Still others run the gamut from safe building materials (non-flammable stretch ceilings, fireproof mid-rise wooden housing platforms, doors that keep rising water out, and sturdy, grid-like walls) to safety products (a fire extinguisher and an emergency, hand-cranked radio) to systems affording some kind of assurance (termite insurance for certain construction methods, models of tempo-rary housing for small communities, a business continuity plan, a business model promot-ing renovation of older buildings, and a skyscraper emergency control center).
Overall, a surprising number of entries were focused on community design. Examples in-clude a smart community, a humanitarian Tohoku project that produces traditionally bound notebooks, disaster awareness materials for condominiums, a café in a devastated area, student-inspired community-building activities, a project to ease relocation, and ap-plying lessons learned from Japan’s disaster to help those in Nepal. One reason may be because recovery is proceeding slowly, even four years after the disaster, and it has been easier to deal with the intangibles of recovery than with the tangibles. This response also reflects how those in architecture and other design disciplines have taken the opportunity of 3/11 to focus on community issues.
Over the course of evaluation, though, fewer and fewer qualified entries remained as we passed the second screening and selected the Best 100. In fact, there were few truly out-standing entries. Although the significance of entries was apparent, there was still room for improvement in the quality of this design to prevent, mitigate, and recover from disas-ters. The primary challenge in this field therefore lies in improving design quality. Quality can also be improved in community design. One thing to look forward to are attempts at changing the rather staid, practical image of disaster-related design.
A serious cause for concern arises when one sees conditions in disaster areas firsthand as I can, based in Sendai. Some of those ordering the construction are not interested in apply-ing good design principles and making their work known, through the media. It would be regrettable if this trend prevented outstanding recovery projects from being entered in the award program. These organizers wish to avoid attracting media attention and criticism from being seen as prospering from tragedy. Under this prevailing atmosphere, they prefer not to disturb the status quo of evacuees living in the humble, box-like dwellings generally expected. Rather than being praised for exceeding expectations within a limited budget, good design work might be criticized as being excessive. The new national stadium to be built in Tokyo for the Olympics has caused a similar stir. Ultimately, the original proposal was abandoned not on the grounds of design quality but from the perception that cheaper would be better.
Considering the tenor of our times, the program must ensure that the promise of good de-sign, as we publicly celebrate in winning entries, is also recognized in disaster areas. Good design does not inflate budgets; it puts us in a better position to use things, which we come to appreciate. Of course, this has always been an ideal of the program, but we must now prove that we can truly convey it to society.
Interest in medicine and assistive products has grown in recent years, and as the boundaries of traditional medical products expand with an infusion of IT, robotics, and other technologies, the award program will be seeing more and more genre-defying entries. What exactly constitutes good design in this field? Responding to this question requires us to investigate the role and significance of design that satisfies quite a few criteria – not only in matters of appearance, but also in improved functionality, complete innovativeness, regulatory compliance, fair promotion of efficacy and safety, and as an example of outstanding design in all of these respects, what message it conveys to society.
Only products duly developed following regulatory guidelines and proven to offer a suitable balance of efficacy and safety can be marketed as medical products. This efficacy or effectiveness must be explained appropriately, according to some scientific basis. Evaluating product efficacy and safety is not easy, which is why regulatory approval is generally essential.
The design of medical and assistive products is viewed from several different viewpoints by manufacturers and users. Some products are well designed but match previous products in functionality, for example. Others are elegant and outperform previous products in medical applications. Still others are well designed or perform well but cannot be marketed as medical products, due to regulations. A comprehensive perspective accounting for these different viewpoints is therefore needed when determining good design.
Although one product evaluated shows promise in aiding medical treatment through outstanding technology, it has only been commercialized for use in health and beauty applications, and R&D for medical applications is still under way. Used for health and beauty, the product is clearly innovative, but it cannot yet be evaluated as a medical device. We look forward to seeing it adopted in medical scenarios in the future, with its technical innovation presented effectively through design.
Evaluation this year revealed how various approaches in design have improved the quality of medical and assistive products. Some winning entries, such as the 3M Japan face shield, seem to have begun from a bright idea that inspired outstanding product design. In others, such as the Eli Lilly insulin auto-injector or the GE MRI system, superb design can be traced back to the technical wizardry that made these products possible. Another winning entry built on solid technical expertise at the crossroads of medicine and robotics is a Denso robot that assists in surgery. Manufacturers have eagerly promoted robot technology in medical applications for years, and the fact that some robots now assist surgeons in extremely delicate tasks demonstrates how far robotics has come in medicine. Other admirable products blend IT with medicine, which is also creating waves.
Thus, we can see research achievements, technological advances, and industrial changes vividly reflected in entries, but determining design quality in this field essentially remains a matter of seeing how the developers persuade society that the products are safe and effective, and how they secure benefits for users.
Allow me to conclude by mentioning some guidelines for entries in this field that will support evaluation. Admittedly, judges were misled this year by one entry, marketed as a medical device, which was described misleadingly by discussing functions outside the scope of regulations on efficacy. Information required for evaluation includes both the current status of regulatory approval and entry highlights within the scope of regulations, in support of the approved efficacy. Preferably, entrants should also clarify whether the design primarily emphasizes styling, usability, functionality, or technology. Entrants should consider comparing entries to their previous products, and explaining improvements. Comparing entries to competitive products and describing their competitive edge will also support efficient evaluation.
To begin, we should define the terms in this Focused Issue, which are sometimes used interchangeably. Experience suggests that in contrast to the objective judgment of being safe, having peace of mind can be interpreted as a subjective state. Security comes in many different forms, such as various assurances and anti-crime measures. To be fully satisfied, users must feel this peace of mind through products or projects (including those evaluated in the award program), as determined subjectively by each user. Designers charged with instilling this peace of mind, on the other hand, must ensure that what they design is safe, based on objective criteria. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to state that the Product Liability Act of 1995 implies responsibility beyond this role. If we consider what underlies the tendency among the best 100 of the many outstanding design entries this year to afford safety and peace of mind, we can attribute people’s uneasiness and desire for peace of mind to four factors: disaster, disease, accidents, and crime.
Natural disasters cannot be averted, but we can prepare for them. The sources of energy that society turns to in emergencies should also support us after disasters subside, and Toshiba’s standalone hydrogen power system promises peace of mind normally and in times of need. Similar assurance comes from Panasonic lanterns and solar energy storage systems, products we use normally that can continue to be used during emergencies.
In taking on disease, design supporting renowned medical care is showing even greater quality and versatility. The GE ultrasound system, for example, can also be used in emerging nations. Insulin patients can avoid medical mishaps with an auto-injector from Eli Lilly that keeps the needle safely retracted before and after use. Both products afford peace of mind in medical care.
Avoiding careless accidents in everyday situations requires both preventive mechanisms and ways to make users aware of potential hazards. For drivers, a good example of the former approach is found in an inspired Subaru automatic braking system that enhances traffic safety. For doctors or nurses who might be exposed to droplets of medicine or fluids when treating patients, a clever face shield from 3M Japan provides protection. Similarly, workers at hazardous sites will be more amenable to wearing the stylish spectacles in 3M’s series of protective eyewear, which encourages use.
Concerns about crime also make people uneasy, even in decidedly peaceful Japan. One application of technology to deter crime is a Panasonic network camera that records what it monitors. The mere presence of such a camera enhances security. Against the distinctively modern threat of cybercrime, quantum key distribution in Toshiba’s quantum cryptographic communication system is being tested as a means of preventing a university’s genome research data from being tampered with during transmission. Each of these may bring peace of mind by curbing crime.
Outside of the purview of designers, how products are actually used is left to each user’s discretion, which ultimately determines whether users derive peace of mind. But as mentioned, product design must ensure safety, and regardless of users’ subjective judgments, designers must incorporate ample safety features. In the four areas discussed, where we crave peace of mind, we should imagine that people value safety in particular. In consideration of the potential risks that exist, not only designers but consumers as well must recognize the value of safety-conscious products. Creating safety and peace of mind can then be seen as the responsibility of both designers and users. Toward this end, things must be satisfying and fulfilling to use when used safely, which makes diligent user experience design that encourages safety all the more promising.
In the context of the “Safety / Security” Focused Issue, this is how society can enjoy greater peace of mind and safety.
Most entries relevant to the “Information / Communication” Focused Issue deal with func-tions controlled by people, as seen in interaction with digital devices. Three distinctive trends were apparent in entries this year, which I introduce here with a few observations.
First, a broader range of entries now involves digital devices with network functionality generally associated with the Internet of Things (IoT). Some, such as the Qrio smart lock or Photosynth smart locking/unlocking system, offer convenient security. Others support fitness, such as Sony’s smartphone-compatible, training-oriented music player, and still others keep family members in touch, such as Yukai Engineering’s connected “robot” that is convenient for smartphone users. Visionaries proposed the concept of ubiquitous compu-ting more than two decades ago, and it is finally unfolding at a rapid pace around us and shaping society in tangible ways. Smartphones in particular form a shared infrastructure, linking individual users and society at large to a variety of devices. People have only begun to scratch the surface of IoT and ways to tap its potential. We look forward to seeing amaz-ing new applications and clear, focused demonstrations of how the technology can improve our lives.
Expanded crowdfunding is another trend. Now, sophisticated production of digital devices and other hardware is within the reach of startups. In Japan, this source of capital also supports filmmakers and others in the creative community, through a service called Mo-tionGallery. Internationally, the original Kickstarter crowdfunding service supports pro-jects that have gone on to win awards, such as the Tangram smart jump rope that uses LED afterimages to display fitness data mid-air as users jump. Another crowdfunded product is MESH, a smart DIY and sharing platform that was proposed by a large corpora-tion but met its funding target through contributions from average people. Now that product development can take new paths, individual designers and small design offices can also develop their own products. Crowdfunding promises to bring unique and enjoyable examples of design to life as never before.
A third factor that now affects how design takes shape (and is eventually sold) is more ac-cessible fabrication technology, with a prime example being 3D printing. 3D printers were once used exclusively in prototyping or production of mock-ups, but as a recent 3D-printed bionic arm from Exiii admirably shows, the technology now enables users to create prod-ucts that suit them for a fraction of the normal cost. As the trend continues, we can imagine more products customized for each user’s physique or preferences, and sold at mo-re affordable prices. In pre-industrial society, each product was once made by hand. Fabri-cation, communication – as via the Internet – and other technologies have changed so tremendously that we may be headed toward a digitally tailor-made future.
Before considering design in the context of advanced technology, we should clarify what high tech means in the first place. A look back at history shows that technology has always extended our abilities and driven society forward, but what lies beyond current advances is an unseen future. Only time will tell whether design that introduces us to high tech – not to mention the high tech itself – will make life better and take us in the right direction. Some progress carries us smoothly from past to present to future, but surprises also await us, and revolutionary technologies break from the past. In each kind of progress, design plays different roles. We can consider how the design of winners in this year’s program introduces the future that this continuous or discontinuous progress represents.
Ideal forms enabled by high technology
First, consider some examples of natural steps in the continuous evolution of advanced technology. In pursuit of superior image quality and extreme slimness, designers of award-winning Sony 4K TVs and LG OLED TVs have created the effect that what we are watching is floating in the air without any set around it. Here and in the equally mature field of audio products (with hi-res Sony music players being a prime example), designers have sought the ultimate form of products that advances in technology inevitably enable. This is consummate design, worthy of admiration.
New possibilities from technical innovation
Also building on past development, other design – notably in the revolutionary Nikon superzoom compact and Canon’s ultra wide-angle DSLR lens – deserves high praise for overcoming technical barriers to excite us with the promise of unprecedented photography. Similarly, Sharp’s free-form display technology and Samsung’s VR system reframe possibilities in non-rectangular or immersive displays, making us eager to see future applications of this groundbreaking display technology.
Helping establish new technology in society
What role should design play in the discontinuous progress of disruptive innovation, which reshapes our values, creates markets, and replaces traditional technology with something wholly new?
Minimalist modern televisions, for example, have largely displaced older TVs that are as substantial as furniture. In UI design, skeuomorphism in early smartphones, which mimicked the texture of paper or the effect of turning pages, has given way to “flat” and “material” design. Both examples show how design in the early stages of a technology may not be essential to the technology but serves a certain role as society comes to accept the technology.
In lighting, a well-designed LED bulb from SIM Lighting features an original LED filament that makes it omnidirectional and eliminates the bulky heat sink found in most LED bulbs, which, along with its low cost and other advantages, makes it a promising replacement for incandescent bulbs. We also look forward to new lighting design that capitalizes on the characteristics of constantly evolving LED technology and breaks free from traditional bulb shapes required by older technologies, which will expand the possibilities of future lighting design.
One senses another significant role of design in making us more comfortable with relatively unfamiliar advanced technologies, such as the hydrogen technologies in Toyota Mirai vehicles or Toshiba power systems, or the technology behind Toshiba’s quantum cryptographic communication system. What is memorable about these award winners is comprehensive design of both the tangibles (in the form of the products themselves) and the intangibles, such as promotion and other means of familiarizing people with hydrogen energy, quantum cryptography, and other new technology.
Good design in a high-tech context
Thus, reflecting on high-tech winners in this year’s program, we can see that entries were often awarded for these design achievements:
- Presenting the ultimate forms enabled by high technology
- Exciting us with visionary design that shows technology’s untapped potential
- Familiarizing us with technology that may herald a new age
But as suggested initially, technological advances continue to accelerate, and the future seems more unpredictable than ever. In changing times, design that introduces us to high tech cannot be evaluated from the same historical perspective as design that earns a Long Life Design Award. In fact, it is precisely the kind of work that inspires a mixed reaction – both for and against it – that may set new trends. In any case, we can hope that the program will remain relevant not only by sharing good design but by asking us to consider whether design merits this distinction.
Designing the increasingly important links in a networked society
An advantage of open architecture lies in how, by promoting a shared vision, it forms broad networks beyond existing frameworks, giving movements new capabilities and tremendous momentum and inspiring further innovation. Advances in digital technology have brought on an era in design where we can freely link the constellations of people, things, and services around us. As many things or events no longer seem to exist in isolation, design proves its worth by arranging these things in a network – arrangements that are increasingly open.
However, companies view open architecture as both a significant opportunity and a potential risk, and in each case they must decide what to share and what to keep closed. Companies must determine a fitting stance, accounting for the nature of markets and the company’s strengths, and apply good design toward this end on a case-by-case basis. If all goes well, a desirable chain reaction occurs that may exceed expectations, but failure poses the risk of releasing – by one’s own hands – expertise that took years to develop. This makes open strategies challenging.
What users or partners are tempted to participate? Under traditional business frameworks, they would be companies large and small, or perhaps research institutes. The essence of openness, however, also leaves participation open to individuals. With enough ingenuity or technical expertise, anyone can participate – and this thinking is essential to open strategies. What supports open projects is a group of individuals. The ties between real people, who become acquainted with each other and engage in friendly competition, form a kind of social capital and add layers of value.
This social capital also holds the potential to shape the future through the efforts of enthusiastic individuals working beyond the limitations of modern society's economic utilitarianism. It can fill the void between public and private sector activities, which also applies to rural revitalization deemed economically unfeasible. As more people – especially in Japan, where an era of growth has given way to an era of maturity – become interested in taking on social issues and improving everyday life, social capital toward these general goals will build up, and we may gradually mend some of the distortions of modernization and establish a new equilibrium between economic viability and social or environmental sustainability.
The evolution of open corporate strategies
Leading component maker Misumi now shares factory equipment design information normally kept quite secret within the manufacturing industry. Instead of locking up this information internally, the manufacturer passes down engineering knowledge to younger generations, contributes to greater overall industrial efficiency, and proves their corporate commitment to open standards, which deserves admiration. And when manufacturers take the initiative to release design files (as for the Exiii bionic arm and Olympus open-platform camera project), developers and designers worldwide become involved in the community, which encourages independent refinement and expansion of product design and functionality. Another factor that maintains interest in ongoing development is making 3D data available, so that individual contributors can 3D-print models themselves. The open approach taken in the Sony MESH smart DIY platform encourages diverse development though modular products, which are combined by makers in electronic projects. As the business environment becomes more complex, one senses a new decisiveness in companies that focus on certain strengths or technologies while leaving other matters open for users or partners to develop. Rather than narrowing their scope of business, this open stance can be viewed as a proactive strategy that promotes more widespread use of what the company truly excels at.
The emergence of platforms that amplify individual efforts
There is also a new spirit of enterprise and opportunity in open frameworks supported by many individuals. Crowdsourcing is one example of this, and to its 650,000 registered users, the CrowdWorks platform offers work opportunities beyond the bounds of conventional employment. Communities and regions also stand to benefit. Rural prefectures with abundant resources such as Tottori and Miyazaki are promoted in projects of the Blabo! collaborative platform, which has 13,000 participants. Another notable example of collaboration for community development has united the efforts of Miyama residents and their city officials. Residents are equal stakeholders in community-building that takes on energy and related issues. These projects seem to herald an end to the dominant practice of thoroughly dividing labor in pursuit of efficiency and growth, and they suggest a future where the connections between people with a shared vision drive us all forward.
Professor Seymour Papert of the MIT Media Lab once observed that although a mid-19th-century surgeon would be unable to do anything in a modern operating room, a mid-19th-century teacher would probably get by in a classroom today, because the way we teach has not changed in 150 years.
The same can be said in Japan. Compulsory education was introduced in 1872, in the transition from an agrarian society to an industrial one. Private education gave way to public classrooms with groups of students at the same level. As Japan raced toward indus-trialization, this change in educational systems was inevitable. But as we transition from a society based on industry to one based on information, it is time once again to redesign education.
Responses to this social need for new ways to teach and learn can be seen in many of this year’s entries. In particular, these examples of design seemed to redefine studying and recommend how and where we should study.
First, winning entries played down the importance of remembering and memorizing in traditional academic studying. Instead, the notable NHK TV series Mimicries helps culti-vate a scientific mind and a spirit of independent inquiry, while the Sony MESH smart DIY platform encourages even non-technical users to learn about digital projects. Both emphasize thinking and creativity.
When what we consider to be studying changes, we must also reconsider how we should study. Some feel that instead of the one-way transmission of knowledge from individual teachers to a group of students, we need shared learning – where everyone contributes his or her own knowledge and experiences, teaching and learning from each other to create valuable lessons together. More educators who can coordinate this kind of study are need-ed, so we can expect that more teacher training courses like Aoyama Gakuin’s workshop designer program will emerge and become mainstream.
As for where we should study, rather than families relying solely on schools or their own homes, there is a need for communities to arrange other venues for education. This has inspired projects in rural Kawanokami (where many Ishinomaki evacuees are resettling) and Akita, with the latter inviting visitors to join the village for a while by staying in a well-preserved traditional Japanese house. Significantly, study at these places also helps pass down local culture.
Diversity is also respected in some new study environments. Toward this end, one tutoring service provides a warm, family-like setting for local students through diversity partly in-spired by the idea of encouraging intellectually disabled members to serve as instructors. This admirably demonstrates a different kind of inclusive learning.
The spread of information and communication technology is transforming society, altering the skills people will need, and inevitably persuading us to redefine studying, how we study, and where we study. On the other hand, ITC has also made these changes possible.
Illustrating this well are an online service from Recruit that provides innovative learning materials and an iPhone app from Sakawa that uses a projector to turn ordinary black-boards into a hybrid surface for teaching. ITC will be instrumental in developing the three aspects of study discussed – study that involves thinking and creativity, that involves others in cooperative learning, and that involves schools, students’ homes, and community venues. It also enables us to provide superior educational opportunities to all children, without geographical or economic constraints.
How will education evolve, for the first time in 150 years? In this, we are eager to see the power of good design.
It is easy to imagine a manufacturer assigning a project to a designer. The product takes shape, and eventually, more people see it. One senses from the award program in the 1990s that many entries have followed this pattern, but this year saw greater diversity in who assigned design and who received assignments. In fact, more entries than ever seem self-designed, self-produced, and self-promoted.
The small venture company behind the LED-embedded jump rope, for example, managed to develop the concept all the way through to launch. Initial capital for the Whill personal mobility solution was crowdfunded. And there is also something fresh and appealing about the bladed tools from Banshu because the craftsmen banded together and redesigned their entire business model. Someone is always behind the scenes, orchestrating an enterprise, but few designers to date have been in this position.
When the same people are involved from initial conception through project financing and then design, it certainly brings the narrative of development into clear and compelling focus that may make the enterprise successful. The very same business model supports a service that offers lodgers a traditional Japanese house for a better taste of village life, and a social platform that invites users to fill in the blank to describe a club that would appeal to them. What makes it easier for these enterprises to thrive is that their founders, who conceived and designed the business quite freely, represent a compelling model that resonates with people.
Why are we seeing more of this kind of comprehensive design, where a small team manages a project from conception to fruition?
The Internet does play a large role, but more significant is the fact that an infrastructure for creating all kinds of business is now in place. Even without much capital, launching a business is more feasible with an array of services that simplify the paperwork and provide crowdfunding and crowdsourcing. It seems an interesting coincidence that each of these ventures emerged at roughly the same time, around 2011.
Now that this infrastructure exists and is becoming more pervasive, small groups and even individuals can accomplish what once required the resources of a larger organization. At the same time, some disadvantages of large organizations can be avoided, such as launches where bright ideas lose their luster because too many decision makers are involved, or launches where creative ideas are abandoned to please all stakeholders. With this infrastructure, even individuals can bring ideas to fruition, and it no longer requires an organization with a team of diverse specialists. Ideas formed in the solitude of someone’s mind no longer need to be discussed with others, so innovative ideas can take shape faster, and without compromises. There is no need to invest the time and effort in elaborate presentations to persuade others. Smaller organizations are therefore in a better position to show the world their innovation.
But to welcome a new era of design, it also seems essential to enable this kind of innovation by larger organizations. We can imagine all decisions of a project being made by one talented individual, and we can imagine many small teams working in a flexible arrangement. But in either case, what will be indispensable to future progress is better communication – as fast as synapses, and capable of preserving subtle nuances. Like some technology from The Matrix. This way, it will be easier to preserve the full force of ideas, and because concepts difficult to verbalize can be shared among participants, time can be spent on higher-order work. As we await these technological advances, some efforts to streamline communication can be seen in Aoyama Gakuin’s workshop designer program and the Blabo! collaborative platform. With further advances and smoother communication, we will certainly see more innovative design.
In anticipating future directions to take in an award program mindful of the potential of both industry and good design, I have examined the “Culture of life / Mode of life” Focused Issue. To explore this topic, we must begin by considering near-term devel-opments in the Japanese industrial sector.
Surging Inbound Tourism
Japan is currently emerging from an era dominated by industrial produc-tion – specifically, manufacturing – into one where tourism is a mainstay and value is created in various ways. Although Japan’s population is declining and growing older (which has prompted discussion on immigration policies and other measures to compensate), we are beginning to see a brighter future.
We will host our second Summer Olympics in a few years. Around the time of the first Olympics in 1964, it was Europeans and North Americans who commonly traveled abroad. Over time, the number of Asian and Middle Eastern travelers has increased, and Chinese travelers in recent years have further stimulated tourism. This trend tells us that tourism is rapidly becoming a more significant industry around the world.
Consumption by inbound tourists to a country represents domestically purchased “ex-ports” and a way to earn foreign currency. Tapping the growing number of interna-tional travelers and strengthening tourism will clearly be significant in promoting fu-ture industrial development in Japan.
Inbound tourism here has generally been favorable, and this trend is now accelerating. Some 14 million people visited Japan in 2014. Impressively, the government’s original target of welcoming 20 million visitors by within five years of the second Tokyo Olym-pics might even be achieved this year, in 2015. This represents tremendous growth in inbound tourism.
Tourism Resources in Japan
It is useful to evaluate Japan from the standpoint of four key criteria supporting tour-ism: climate, nature, culture, and food. Lying off the coast of East Asia, the Japanese archipelago spans several climate zones from north to south. Trees cover more than half of the land, and many clean and abundant water systems can be found. A sense of vitality is also evident in the thousands of hot springs across the chain of islands. Culturally, Japan’s highly original national character developed over centuries when trade with the outside world was restricted, and the subtlety and refinement of hospi-tality here is largely unmatched anywhere else. As for Japanese cuisine, sophisticated techniques championing seasonal freshness and umami – hot topics in the culinary world – are firmly established, as is the service infrastructure. Diners can rely on high standards in taste and food safety, even for reasonably priced fare. In all of these respects, Japan is more than qualified as an eminent tourist destination.
Visitors appreciate this, but unfortunately, the nation has somehow shied away from fully embracing tourism until now. Perhaps we can blame the success of manufactur-ing-oriented postwar policies that fueled lasting economic growth. People may have quietly scoffed that tourism was for emerging nations without Japan’s manufacturing prowess.
Times have changed. Now, visitors to Japan and the ongoing increases we have seen represent a clear signpost to the next stage in industrial development, demonstrating Japan’s appeal and potential. It is tourism, rather than immigration, that promises to support future industry. Overseas, France has drawn 65 million visitors in recent years. Japan has welcomed 14 million tourists but is estimated to be capable of attracting 80–100 million.
Over the 70 years since the war, Japan has transformed into a veritable factory in support of manufacturing. Shorelines have been reinforced with concrete to create harbors and industrial complexes, high-speed railways and expressways have been built, and distribution infrastructure is in place. It is about time to shift gears, thor-oughly clean up industrial areas, and make the country more inviting for visitors. This is a perfect opportunity for good design. The program must therefore take a broader perspective than evaluating product design – one that also considers area and envi-ronmental design with tourism in mind. This perspective suggests a fundamental re-interpretation of “good” design, through the lens of the Focused Issue of “Culture of life / Mode of life,” and it encourages us to reevaluate the basis of the program.
Vacant Houses and Inbound Needs
Recent years have seen more ideas about how to put the many vacant houses in Japan to good use, with some focused on sharing and others on creating senior communities. Rather than being a problem, the houses are more of an opportunity. View social issues from another angle, and they may reveal possibilities. As soon as one considers vacant houses as potential lodging for rapidly growing inbound tourism, for example, the fu-ture looks brighter.
Owners of unused houses (or homes with extra rooms) can connect with lodgers through services such as the U.S.-based Airbnb, which also allows owners and lodgers to rate each other. The negative ratings of unruly lodgers prevent them from renting desirable properties. Ultimately, the outstanding lodgings and lodgers are automati-cally sorted out and promoted, which has helped make this system so popular in Eu-rope and North America – with 1.5 million listings in 190 countries and 3,400 cities, and more than 40 million registered users. In Japan, Airbnb is expanding from large cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto deeper into the country. Here, two conditions are ap-parent: typical Japanese houses and older buildings might appeal to visitors looking for an authentic Japanese experience, despite the fact that some communities view the properties as a nuisance. Consider both conditions together, and a solution naturally emerges. Of course, this is only one example, but we hope skillful designers will make these connections.
In general, architects themselves usually propose home design, but as more people renovate older buildings to reuse them, we await a more edifying approach that helps residents take the initiative and cultivates “residential literacy.” This viewpoint, which encourages residents to be more engaged and make their own decisions about their home, will be essential in improving the residential environment here in years to come.
Isolated Hotels and Electrical Power
Although Japan offers many scenic shoreline parks, some are rather isolated. On out-lying islands or the tips of peninsulas, they lack sufficient infrastructure in terms of electricity, transportation, and links with the outside world. Here, an appealing alter-native to deploying costly infrastructure might be to propose innovative hotels on a smaller scale, applying a little wisdom and technology. And although many fine tradi-tional inns dot the archipelago, there are relatively few world-class hotels. As for re-sorts, Japan has a remarkably unremarkable vision. We await resorts and traveler services with a Japanese touch that preserve and capitalize on natural environments while maintaining a lighter environmental footprint. An intriguing way to provide isolated villas with electricity and lines of contact with the outside world may be hy-drogen fuel cell vehicles, which are powerful enough to serve as more than merely a means of transportation.
Bringing Visitors Further Afield
Shuttling many visitors between cities is obviously important, but plans for new transportation infrastructure to bring visitors further afield to other scenic areas are lacking. Transportation past the point where intercity railways or flights end is either underdeveloped or nonexistent.
By clearly accounting for foreign visitors, local transportation projects such as Hakone Tozan Railway can surely produce more focused and impressive design. One also senses that a taxi service for children, which stands in contrast to self-driving cars by showing the advantages of a personal touch, may redefine our expectations of taxis. Two inspired examples of motorboat design give hope that the island nation of Japan can be an undisputed world leader in innovative aquatic transport, and it will be ex-citing to see developments in coming years. Visitors might also be tempted to take new two-seater sports cars out for a spin, as long as the cars are presented effectively in well-designed services.
Information Design for Travelers
To lead travelers efficiently and comfortably on their way, stations and airports that serve as hubs are prime candidates for an infusion of new technology and a more com-prehensive perspective in details such as signage. Good ideas have been proposed for station signs, electronic barriers on train platforms, and other pieces of the puzzle, yet a global perspective is lacking. This is surely a clear issue that can be resolved by see-ing the big picture.
Significant Potential of Logistics and Distribution
We can feel a spark of optimism from a project that coordinates and streamlines pro-duce deliveries to roadside rest areas using courier vehicles, but the significant poten-tial we sense in Japanese logistics and distribution today comes from a sense that ul-timately, meticulous services with human warmth and intelligence promise a brighter future for a graying society and thriving tourism.
Some have imagined future refrigerators with a door that opens outward toward us and inward toward others who help stock it, so to speak. What this envisions is con-sumers entrusting some of their personal food management to outside service providers. Although it requires sophisticated security and distribution, Japan stands at the fore-front of nations able to combine the reliability of relevant technologies and services in order to resolve current social issues through fuller services. Progress in establishing systems that provide a reliable, carefully cultivated supply of non-mass-produced food may bring greater stability to Japan in the future.